Q. How is COVID-19 pandemic going to impact Afghanistan?
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Replied by Dr Yatharth Kachiar

The impact of COVID-19 on conflict-ridden Afghanistan can be more severe than many other countries. The country lacks the necessary health infrastructure and nutrient system to cope with the pandemic of this nature. The high rate of illiteracy, lack of public health and hygiene awareness, an economically weak and vulnerable society, porous borders, particularly with Pakistan and Iran makes Afghanistan more vulnerable. Also, the profoundly community oriented society of Afghanistan, where homes often contain several generations of family members makes social distancing a difficult task in the country. Moreover, the influx of a large number of Afghans from Iran over the past few weeks into the country has further endangered the situation. Notably, Iran is among one of the worst afflicted countries with the novel coronavirus. At present, out of 84 confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than 50 have come from Herat province bordering Iran.

What complicates the matter more is Iran’s denial of the Afghan government’s plea to restrict the border crossings, with as many as 15,000 people still crossing into Afghanistan daily. There is a possibility that the number of infected people could be much higher than the available figures because of the absence of capacity to detect the infection due to limited testing and slow spread of the virus. The testing and laboratory facilities are available only in the capital Kabul and Herat. Afghanistan has recently received 15,000 diagnostic kits from UAE, and 4000 kits from China are being delivered in the weeks ahead, diagnostic testing is still stretched given the increasing demand. Apart from Herat, tenother provinces have also reported cases of the illness, raising fears that infections have spread across the country without containment.Other regions with confirmed cases of COVID-19 include Samangan, Balkh, Daikundi, Kapisa, Badghis, Logar, Zabul, Kandahar, Ghazni and Kabul.

On 14 March, the Government of Afghanistan announced that all schools would be closed for an initial period of four weeks – through to 18 April 2020. Public gatherings in Herat have been banned until further notice.The constant state of war in the country has made its soldiers more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 with the task of distancing difficult in the barracks, and their immune systems weakened by exhaustion and poor diets and hygiene. Afghanistan’s health minister said Corona virus could infect up to 80 percent of the population. The American-led NATO military mission said four of its service members had tested positive, and 1,500 were being screened. Afghanistan must expand regional cooperation in the health sector to have adequate support in the present outbreak.

Date : 27/03/2020
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